Jury Selection In Moussaoui Case

Lady Gaga performs at the Glastonbury festival in Somerset, Friday June 26 2009. AP

The death penalty trial of the only man charged in the United States in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks opened Monday after four years of wrangling and delay.

Final jury selection began in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French citizen who has acknowledged his loyalty to the al Qaeda terrorist network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, but denies he had anything to do with Sept. 11.

Moussaoui, frequently ejected from the courtroom earlier in the process because of his outbursts, sat quietly as U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema took a roll call of the prospective jurors, calling each by an assigned number instead of by name in the heavily guarded courthouse.

Prosecutors are pulling out all the stops, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart. The numbers alone are staggering: more than 8,000 family members were questioned, all 2,972 victims will be identified in a day-long video roll call played for the jury. Gigantic scale models of the Trade towers and Pentagon will be rolled into court so victims' families may show precisely where their loved ones worked that day.

For the first time in public, the voice cockpit recorder which captured passenger attempts to retake Flight 93 before it crashed in Pennsylvania will be played, as well as messages left at home by trapped victims in the World Trade Center.

Almost 200 witnesses are expected in a trial lasting one to three months. More than 1,100 family members will also watch from six remote locations.

A jury pool of 83 was called to the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Prosecutors and defense lawyers will whittle that group to a jury of 18 — 12 plus six alternates — using peremptory strikes, which allow each side to dismiss jurors for any reason they choose except race or gender.

Each side gets 30 peremptory strikes. Defense lawyers asked for additional strikes last week, but the judge denied that request Friday.

The jurors scheduled to report for service already been qualified to serve during a two-week jury selection process in which they were quizzed individually by Judge Brinkema and filled out 50-page questionnaires asking their views about the death penalty, al Qaeda, the FBI and their reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday afternoon, and the first witness is also expected to take the stand Monday.

Moussoaui pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with al Qaeda to hijack planes and commit other crimes. The trial will simply determine Moussaoui's punishment, and only two options are available: death or life in prison.

To obtain the death penalty, prosecutors must first prove a direct link between Moussaoui and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Moussaoui denies any connection to 9/11 and says he was training for a possible future attack.

Prosecutors will try to link Moussaoui to 9/11 by arguing that the FBI would have prevented the attacks if only Moussaoui had told the truth to the FBI about his terrorist links when he was arrested in August 2001.

The defense argues that the FBI and other government agencies knew more about the hijackers' plans before 9/11 than Moussaoui and still failed to stop the attacks.

"The result may end up looking easy for prosecutors," says CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "It's hard to imagine jurors having much sympathy for Moussaoui or much patience with the arguments of his lawyers, but this case is a lot more complicated than it appears.

"Mostly, that's because even the government itself now concedes that Moussaoui was not the '20th hijacker' of 9-11. In fact, federal prosecutors cannot prove that Moussaoui even knew about the specific plot carried out by Mohammad Atta and his cohorts on that day," Cohen says.

The government will instead argue that since Moussaoui "was training like a 9-11 hijacker, since he shared the goals of the group, and since he also intended to hijack a plane at some point, he was fairly part of a larger conspiracy that included among its subparts the specific 9-11 plan. That, they say, is enough to warrant a death sentence," Cohen says.
  • Joel Roberts

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